YEREVAN — President Serzh Sarkisian criticized Raffi Hovannisian on Monday for disputing the legitimacy of his reelection and claiming to represent most Armenians, saying that only a tiny segment of the country’s population is participating in demonstrations organized by his main election challenger.

In his first meeting with journalists after the February 18 presidential election, Sarkisian also voiced skepticism over possible dialogue with Hovannisian.

“When they say that the people are out in the streets it sounds very strange to me,” he told a rare news conference organized for a limited number of broadcast media outlets. “On average, only 3,000 people participate in these rallies taking place in Liberty Square … Even if the opinion of every person matters to us, 3,000 people account for only 0.1 percent of our citizens.”

Sarkisian claimed that Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition candidate in the 2008 presidential election, rallied ten times as many people in the same venue when challenging official vote results, despite getting fewer votes than Hovannisian. The latter has therefore no right to speak on behalf of the nation, he said.

Hovannisian has repeatedly urged the incumbent to recognize “the people’s victory” in the ballot and “return power to the people” by leaving office. He went on hunger strike over a week ago to continue pressing those demands. The U.S.-born oppositionist, who remains camped out in Liberty Square, has also demanded that Sarkisian visit and talk to him.

Sarkisian ruled out the possibility of such a visit, however. “I’m asking myself: what should I talk with Raffi Hovannisian about? What should I negotiate on with a man who is bitter at the world and has been hungry for eight days?” he said.

“If I were to go [to the square] I would do that for one purpose: to once again urge and ask Raffi Hovannisian to end the hunger strike and choose other methods of struggle. I’m doing it now,” he said.
“But you know, there is aother very important circumstance: I don’t know the purpose for which Raffi Hovannisian went on hunger strike,” added Sarkisian.

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